The Blue Glass Vase

Glass vase from Pompeii, by J.R. Robbins
The Royal Society website
It was the first time Henry visited George’s house. They had been out together countless times, but George had never invited him over his place before. It wasn’t in any way a big deal, but Henry was curious to see his friend’s house. In the way we think we can understand people better when we look at the things they are surrounded by every day.

He knocked at the door and realised it was open already. He entered and followed the light and warmth, leading him to the room at the end of the corridor. There, he entered an old fashioned studio. The flames in the fireplace made it feel cozy. George was sitting in an armchair, his back to the door, reading a book.
He didn’t even move when Henry entered the room. Henry grinned. Why George had always to be such a poser, he asked himself. He was sure George had arranged the scene just to impress him, pretending to be all engrossed in his readings. Something weird, no doubt. One of those books people like George like to show off on their shelf but who knows if they ever actually read them. 

When Henry came closer, George lifted a hand, without taking his eye off the book, silently asking for few minutes of patience because the chapter was too captivating to be interrupted. Henry rolled his eyes and decided not to say a word until his narcissistic friend was done with this silly pantomime.

He leaned with his back against the warmth of the fireplace, the elbows on the mantelpiece, and looked around. Nothing unexpected. Paintings, mostly inherited from the family: some landscapes, some old and dark portraits of ancestors…

Henry glanced at his host. He was still ostentatiously reading. Henry started getting annoyed. He looked distractedly at some of the books’ spines. There were a couple of little plaster replicas of some Italian masterpiece on the shelves. A bit tasteless, Henry thought with a little malignity.
Bored with the paintings and books, turned his head back to look at the mantelpiece. There was actually the most interesting object in the room. It would have attracted his attention even if he wasn’t so desperately looking for some entertainment. It was a blue vase, with a small lid. It was made of thick glass and every detail, from the shape of the handles to the decorative patterns, was exquisite. Henry ran a finger on it to feel the texture. He caressed the rounded point of the lid.

“Don’t open it.”
George’s voice came unexpectedly. Henry looked at him in surprise. He had even closed his damn book and was staring at his guest. He sounded polite, but also surprisingly firm.
Henry smiled childishly. Not only he had finally managed to get his friend’s attention, but he had also, somehow, succeeded in annoying him. He was liking the vase more and more. Instead of taking his finger off it, Henry grabbed it with two hands and moved it towards the light, to look better at its beautiful colour.
He glanced at George, just to check the effects of his actions. His friend looked irritated. Which wasn’t like him.
“So, there is something in here?” Henry asked, almost joyfully. “Where does it come from? It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed. Put it back, now,” George replied laconically. There was a coldness in his voice that Henry had never heard before. He knew he was being extremely rude. But so had George been before. And it was too satisfying to take a little revenge to let it go so soon.

“Are your granny’s ashes in here? Why shouldn’t I open it?” asked Henry, pretending to shake the vase. 

George wouldn’t take his eyes off it.

“If you open it, I’m going to kill you” he said slowly.

Henry froze for a few moments. Of course George was joking. Still. He had said it in a very determined voice.

Henry laughed loudly. 

“Killing someone just because he doesn’t obey you is a bit too much even for you, George.” The conversation was getting weirdly unpleasant, and Henry could feel it. But at the same time, he was unable to back off. To just put back the blue vase and talk about something else.
“So, would you kill a dear friend for a vase? Do you value my conversation so little?” Henry tried to joke. Not the smallest smile appeared on George’s face, though.

“It’s not just the vase. It’s what it’s inside it,” George replied.

“Oh now I am deadly curious. You have to tell me,” said Henry, one hand on the lid, suggesting he was more than ready to find out by himself.

George hesitated for a few seconds, like he was thinking. Then he grinned and said, “Right, because you want to know so badly I’m going to tell you.
“A demon.”


“There is a demon trapped in the vase. It has been there for generations. If you open the lid, you’ll set her free. And I swore that it would never happen. I swore to kill anyone who tries to open it. No matter who.”

Silence fell upon them for some seconds.

Then Henry burst into laughter.
“That’s a good one! And how are you supposed to kill me? With your bare hands? I might be stronger than you, you know?”
“Yes, you might be physically fitter, but I am armed and you’re not.” said George, slightly pedantically.

“Now you’re going to tell me that you have a gun hidden under the pillow of your armchair?” asked Henry, smiling.

“No,” said George standing up slowly, “but I have a sword.” He pointed at the an old sword that was just next to the fireplace. It was a nice object. Henry was sure it was on display just as a piece of art. Most likely it didn’t even have a proper blade.

“Very funny,” said Henry without being amused

He wished he hadn’t started this stupid game. But he was sure that George was just making fun of him. He could already picture George laughing so hard that he would barely breathe. He could see him telling anyone—any single person in their circle—for months, the story of when he made Henry believe such a ridiculous story. 

He wasn’t going to give him this satisfaction. He wanted George to make a mistake. “The time I need to open it,” said Henry in a provocative tone, “is anyway less than the time it will take you to kill me. So, the demon will be free anyway and there will be nothing you can do about it. Doesn’t sound like a plan to me.”

“Yes,” admitted George calmly. “But the death threat is what has kept that vase unopened so far. Whoever opens the vase will die. That is the rule. I swore it and, believe me, I will do it.”

Henry never believed the story of the demon, not even for a single moment. He wasn’t stupid. But the idea that George might be so crazy to actually believe it had crossed his mind. Or what if George was just too proud to back off? Would this conversation really turn into something very much regrettable? 

“I will never believe that you are going to kill a friend in cold blood, in your house,” Henry stated. 

“Do you really want to bet your life on it? Just put the vase back.” George looked at Henry without blinking.
It was just a power game, Henry knew it. 

If he had seen one single flaw, any little clue, Henry would have opened the lid. Just to teach George a lesson. But George had been impressively seamless. 

“All right,” Henry said, returning the blue vase to the shelf, sighing. As he had just realised that the whole thing wasn’t amusing anymore. But he knew that something in George’s demeanour had scared him.

He was now almost hoping for George to start laughing and teasing him for his cowardice. He opened his arms in a resignation gesture. Then he heard the noise of the vase falling to the floor.

House of the Blue Glass Vase, Extra Portam Herculanensin, E, n. 8


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